N.L.’s food insecurity dramatically reduced: study

Josh Pennell Josh.pennell@thetelegram.com
Published on June 9, 2014
Dr. Valerie Tarasuk is a nutritional sciences professor at the University of Toronto. She says this province’s Poverty Reduction Strategy has helped greatly reduce the number of people experiencing food insecurity. — Submitted photo

The Newfoundland and Labrador Poverty Reduction Strategy has helped reduce the percentage of people on income support who struggle with affording food by almost 50 per cent.

That’s according to a new study by researchers at the University of Toronto. Dr. Valerie Tarasuk, a nutritional sciences professor, and her colleagues examined the state of food insecurity in Canada between 2007 and 2012. Tarasuk presented their findings at the Sheraton Hotel in St. John’s Saturday morning as part of the Canadian Nutrition Society’s 2014 Conference.

When they tabled their results and looked at the data from 2007 to 2012 for this province, Tarasuk said they were astonished.

“2011 jumped off the page for us,” she said on Saturday.

For that year the percentage of households affected by food insecurity in the province was 10.6 per cent — the lowest rate of food insecurity in Canada. The rate of food insecurity among households on income assistance in Newfoundland and Labrador fell from 60 per cent in 2007 to 34 per cent in 2012 — a period the study says coincides with a number of policy changes launched under the province’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.

The strategy is described on the provincial government’s website as “a government-wide approach to promoting self-reliance, opportunity, and access to key supports for persons vulnerable to poverty.” It also says the strategy currently includes more than 80 ongoing initiatives to help groups most vulnerable to food insecurity.

Although the period of time studied by Tarasuk and her group also coincides with a period of increasing economic wealth in the province, she says that’s not what caused the decrease in food insecurity. It’s not even about fewer people being on income support, she said.

“It’s about those people being less vulnerable.”

The number of people experiencing food insecurity in this province actually increased slightly from 2011 to 2012 but the percentage was still far less than in other parts of Canada. While 46 per cent of households in Newfoundland and Labrador whose main source of income was income assistance were food insecure in 2012, this rate ranged from 65 per cent in Ontario to 80 per cent in Alberta.

Tarasuk and her colleagues concluded that the extent of food insecurity is far greater than food bank use indicates and because food insecurity changed here so much due to policy, the problem of food insecurity itself is sensitive to policy changes in a way that food bank numbers are not.

“This is huge,” Tarasuk said on Saturday, pointing out that having the numbers fall as they did in this province means that literally thousands of people were less insecure when it came to food.

The difficult part is they still don’t know exactly why. They know the Poverty Reduction Strategy was vital but there’s many parts to it and it still isn’t clear which are or were having the most impact. However, they’re hoping to get a better idea about that with future data as some of the initiatives in the strategy have changed.

Regardless, they know they’re onto something about solving food insecurity. And solving that has a host of positive consequences.

“This thing is so tightly tied to health,” Tarasuk said.

Children in food insecure houses have been shown to have poorer health that can cause long-term problems for them throughout life. Tarasuk also mentioned the massive health-care savings that can result from reducing food insecurity in homes.

 

josh.pennell@thetelegram.com